The Art of Wors
A professional theatre artist
offers practical tips on
worship arts today.
By Dennis J. Hassell
We enter the church on Christmas Eve. The darkened auditorium gleams with artful lighting that illumi- nates rich decorations and glinting banners. From somewhere above, a lonely shepherd’s pan pipes play an ancient tune.
The lights fade to a pool of moonlight, where a teenage Mary has a conflict with her anxious husband.
Bumptious shepherds herd wayward sheep right
through the pews. Familiar Scripture passages feel like
Suddenly, Three and a Half (Wise) Men invade the
baptistery, and a quartet of stable animal puppets sing a
doo-wop version of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
It’s a little madcap, but it’s wonderful.
A procession of candles, streamers, dancers, musicians and singers of all ages create a shining ring around
us. We came from a place of ordinary life – we are now in another
place. We are moved. And we wonder, “Why can’t we do more
of this stuff the rest of the year?”
Hassell’s The Other Side
of the River, a musical
parable for churches.
Dennis Hassell (inset).
What Are Worship Arts?
“This stuff” is worship arts. It is how we bring the arts – drama,
painting, literature, dance, hip-hop, sculpture even! – into the
worship experience to draw people closer to
God. As a touring artist, I have worshipped
in hundreds of churches around North
America in both traditional and contemporary contexts. This breadth of experience,
combined with decades spent in professional theatre, has given me some perspective –
and a few convictions – about worship arts
today. And what we might learn from professional performing
artists about how to do it even better.
Just as you seek the
Holy Spirit’s leading in
the actual worship, seek
it also in the planning.
is rewrites. But don’t skim over determining exactly what you want the audience to
receive. In church, Scripture shapes script.
Start With the Script
Before a theatre assembles the creative team, hires the performers
or books the venue, they have a clear story to tell. Can everyone
articulate what the story is, and what their role is in telling it? If
you don’t know, the congregation won’t. There is room for changes as the ideal collides with the real, and the Spirit leads. Life
Don’t Skip Over Table Work
Actors want to get up and act, but first they
sit at a table and get everyone literally on the
same page. Worship and theatre are both action, but thinking
before you act is required. Take time to think – and pray without
ceasing. The quiet members will have room to contribute great
ideas. One pastor told me, “I follow the Holy Spirit’s prompting
the most when I have done the most preparation.”
Make Everyone Part of the Ensemble
Professional directors insist everyone must be in the loop. Even box
office staff and head ushers come to dress rehearsals so they under-